It’s easy to decide to make the switch to real food. But it can be really, really overwhelming when you get to the store and realize: I’ve never shopped for real food! It’s even easier to just default to the usual packaged items you might typically buy when you’re feeling out of sorts. Surely you’ve BOUGHT real foods before (produce, meat, eggs). But where do you start?! How do you navigate the grocery store, choosing real food options (for the most part) without stress?
Take a deep breath, mama. It’s easier than you think. Here are a few of my best tips for navigating the grocery store with a real food mindset:
1. Shop the Perimeter.
The perimeter of the store is where primarily REAL foods lie. If you start your shopping around the perimeter (produce, meat/fish, dairy, freezer) items and get the majority of your groceries there, you will be less tempted, once your cart is full with good foods, to fill it with processed foods that might not be nourishing. If you really want those cookies from the center of the store or you need tomato sauce, quinoa, nuts, etc- that’s cool! The point here is that the MAJORITY of your foods are real foods.
Let’s go on a tour, shall we?
Most grocery stores’ doors open to the produce section (think about all your favorite stores!). It’s because the produce section is PRETTY! No one wants to walk into the snack aisle. Take advantage of the beauty of the produce section and start filling your cart, here. Vegetables, fruits, sometimes nuts and seeds are found here, too. Use your list if you’re on a budget, but I DO encourage you to try something new whenever you’re grocery shopping. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy spicy arugula or pretty purple Japanese sweet potatoes!
Next, the store usually features the deli/cheese and meat/fish sections. These are also (mostly) real foods. I do recommend taking care when choosing which deli meats and cheese you choose, for health purposes (there can be lots of hidden ingredients in deli meats and cheese. Choose the least ingredients, grass-fed or hormone/antibiotic free when possible). Meat, fish and the like- all real foods! Go for it!
Moving around the store, you will usually come upon the dairy/egg section. Also real foods! Remember that real butter- not margarine- is a real food (this is where the next tip comes into play).
Then you come to the frozen section. There are a ton of real food options here, too! There is nothing wrong with frozen fruits/veggies (or ice cream, for that matter!). Frozen produce is often picked at it’s ripest point, so it can be a great, inexpensive and quick option to keep in your freezer.
Don’t eschew the middle aisles! There are plenty of real (and not real) options in this section, too. The point is to maximize your time and your budget with the options around the perimeter. You will find nut butters, grains and beans, canned tomatoes and sauce here, as well as snack foods.
You can often also find real food bread options in the bread aisle (we like sprouted grain) or bakery (sourdough- make sure it’s true sourdough, i.e. not yeasted).
2. Think one-ingredient foods.
This is the key when you’re shopping: think ONE-INGREDIENT foods. Wondering if the box of oatmeal packs is a real food? Maybe, maybe not. Could you simply buy oats and add your own flavoring? (It’s less expensive, too). How easy is it to cook up some oats, stir in a little maple syrup and cinnamon, and a splash of almond milk? Less money and less processed. These simple choices add up.
This is also where I make sure to stress:
3. Don’t stress if it’s not ‘perfect’. There IS NO PERFECT. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, what works for me might not work for you. It’s all about making decisions that work for YOUR family, with an emphasis on real food. It doesn’t bother me in the least (and it shouldn’t bother you) if you are eating mostly real food, and you REALLY love that one brand of cookies for a treat. Now, if the cookies are causing a physical health reaction- that’s another thing. But if you just really love a cookie after your delicious, real food lunch or dinner- what is stopping you? There are no rules to real food eating. Find YOUR balance. Take YOUR routine into consideration. Make healthier choices, but don’t stress yourself out or force unnecessary restrictions. This is a process. Real food is not a diet- it lasts your entire life. You need to make it WORK for the rest of your life.
Do you feel ready to tackle the grocery store? Grab your list, and remember:
1. Shop the perimeter, first.
2. Look for one-ingredient foods.
3. Don’t stress and make choices based on what works, for YOU.
Want help budgeting real food? Click the link below to get my free Healthy Mama on a Budget guide.